How Emotional Contagion Influences Our Relationships

There is a certain buzz in our culture about being “authentic”. It’s usually defined as being real, true to your values, transparent and honest.

I think it’s a good aspiration. It’s good to share, to open up, to be who we are. I never believed in wearing masks or hiding away my true inner states.

However, over the years, I have realized something important. 

Too much honesty and transparency can achieve the opposite results of what we aim for.

Being authentic and real is important. But blurting out everything that is on our mind and heart, is not.

Not without the awareness of how that influences our environment.

Research has consistently shown that our emotions influence people around us very powerfully, and are even more contagious than a common cold!

Emotional contagion happens when one person’s emotions or behaviors are mimicked by another person’s. Most of the time this happens subconsciously. It happens on the level of facial and body muscle fibers being activated unbeknownst to us, which trigger these actual feelings in the brain.

The more expressive you are, the more chances that people will catch your emotion. According to “Are You Catching Other People’s Emotions?” in U.S. World and News Report, we can pass unto others both positive emotions, such as enthusiasm and joy, as well as negative ones such as sadness, fear, and anger.

This is why authenticity is not enough if you want to have good relationships. It must be coupled with a sensitivity and responsibility for people around us.

The idea that dumping your feelings on someone, or letting out your frustration with them will “heal” the relationship is detached from the understanding of how our emotional networks work. If anything, it could send negative vibes all around you, as well as leave you feeling depleted.

Instead, the realization that we are all constantly influencing each other in a field of emotion and thought- can help us see the most productive thing we can do for our relationships. We need to be that first domino piece to spread the positivity. Knowing that it will come right back.




How Emotional Contagion Influences Your Relationships

4 Ways to Make Emotional Contagion Work For You

So how can we actually benefit from our understanding of emotional contagion?

1. Realize that making people around you happy, is in your benefit!

Researchers Christakis and Fowler have shown that your happiness is related to the happiness of your friends, their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends! They found that happy people are located within clusters of other happy people. So each happy person around you increases your probability of being happy!

When you make even a small effort to smile, be positive, radiate warmth and security towards people around you-you are contributing to your own emotional well being.

2. Ask yourself: what types of emotion do I give off and how does it affect my family, friends, and colleagues? 

It’s really important to become more aware of the impact we have on our environment. Try to notice your tone of voice, your gestures, and expression. In every interpersonal encounter, we can either uplift others or bring them down. This awareness can help you tune yourself to being more supportive and to begin infusing your social network with positive emotion.

(You will soon realize this amazing phenomenon: Trying to uplift others when you yourself are down, is a great remedy for your bad mood! Strengthening others strengthens you! )

If you want more tips on how to prevent conflict and actively create a harmonious atmosphere in your relationships, click on the link below to download my FREE guide!

3. Take practical steps. 

Make a rule in your relationship or family, that whenever you (or your partner) come home, you put on a smile.

No matter how your day was, who cut you off as you were driving, or how frustrated you were by that flat tire…take all your problems and dispose of them like dirty laundry right at the door. Now put on your best smile.

Greet everyone in the family with joy and warmth. Once you are calmer and harmoniously reunited with your loved ones, you can tell them about what happened to you during your day that may have been upsetting. But hold yourself back and tell them about it in good humor, positive that everything will work out.

This may feel like acting, but when you smile and radiate warmth and security to everyone around you, you are both taking care of your environment, and effectively helping yourself overcome negative emotions and situations in the process.

Of course, we all occasionally need to confide our feelings to someone we trust. We need to be supported and comforted. The point is to become more mindful of how we influence our social network on the whole.

4. Practice Overcoming Negativity 

Negative emotional states come and go. It could be a behavior or situation that annoyed you or any other trigger. Angry or otherwise negative feelings are bound to arise. Practicing overcoming these emotions is work that takes time. But with enough awareness, it is possible to possible to greatly improve how well you can control your emotions.

You can find more actionable steps to working through negative emotions here.

Giving Our Children the Right Example

Acting positively for the sake of our environment is especially important if we are parents.

If as parents we are able to smile more, to infuse warmth and security into the family environment, and to transmute difficulties into greater connection, we can give our children a great gift.

Children who get this example from their parents, and therefore learn how to work above conflicts, treating others kindly, will do well everywhere.

Research has shown that social skills learned in childhood, can predict future success in both academia and the job market.

Everywhere they go, whether it’s a university or a workplace, they will be regarded as an asset, because of the warmth they radiate.

They will be able to lead and manage because they will naturally know how to work well with others.

We can change a whole generation by teaching them to be positive, by our own example.


It’s such a great thing to bring a smile with us everywhere we go! This simple change can make all the difference.

So by all means, be authentic, be loyal to your goals and values and don’t compromise your boundaries! But also remember to express in ways that uplift others, that generate the good vibes towards your environment that will sustain it, and enliven you in return.

How does emotional contagion influence your relationships? Share your thoughts in the comments! 

If you liked this post, please share!

Tal Mandelbaum Relationship tips, parenting and self development

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